Mark Latham made some waves when he was elected leader by promising a “new style of politics”. Although Latham had previously written several fairly impenetrable analyses of Third Way-ism in several books, what this meant in practice was an attempt to do “triangulation” Clinton style.

Lindsay Tanner and Bob McMullan weren’t the only people gushing over the potential of Latham’s values revolution – which supposedly changed the topic of the national conversation from big issues like economic policy to symbolic issues like reading to kids. Former Clinton political consultant Dick Morris also popped up in Australian op-ed pages to laud Latham as the new Clinton.

Morris has now moved on to a new career as a full time Hillary hater, and Latham is history.

But interest in Third Way politics, dormant during the Beazley back to the future reign, has now resurfaced. This time it’s about electoral tactics rather than policy – though there’s more than a dash of Blair-style communitarianism in Kevin Rudd’s policy vision.

Team Rudd is taking two moves from the Clinton/Blair playbook.

While Rudd is undoubtedly onto something with his reframing of education as an economic reform issue, Stephen Smith’s rhetoric is pure Clintonism. The government has made gains on education, traditionally a Labor issue, by well orchestrated attacks on evil postmodernist Maoist anti-American teachers and their anti-three-Rs plots for curricular domination. Smith is trying to neutralise this so the education debate can be reframed with his own accountability agenda for teachers.

Hillary Clinton explained to Bob Woodward the need to take on teachers’ unions in the 1992 presidential campaign – “you have to pick a fight with your friends”.

Blair also believed that he had to pick a fight with his party. Rudd can look forward to winning the uranium debate at the ALP national conference to show he’s not in thrall to the left.

But he’s not missing a beat on throwing his weight around. Reports of Gary Gray’s preselection in Brand had Rudd painting himself as demanding the former ALP Secretary as a candidate. Shades of his “dictate to the factions” shadow cabinet formation.

The trouble with this toughness is that no-one was ever going to run against Gray. So Rudd loses nothing, and makes no enemies by asserting himself.

Blair had a genuine fight on his hands to rebrand New Labour. New Labor, Rudd style, is all in the rhetoric.

Peter Fray

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